It’s interesting how your perspective changes when you’re a parent – and in particular, when you have a daughter.
If you know me, I am OBSESSED with O. All I want to do is hug her and kiss her and love her forever like Elmyra from Animaniacs. But now that she is starting to talk, I’ve started asking her, “Can Mommy get a kiss/hug?” And half the time, she uses her current favorite word, “No.” And I say, “Ok, no problem” and inside, I beam with pride, ascribing much more meaning than I should.
The first memory that recently came to my consciousness was of fifth grade. Art Boy was intriguing, and I was giddy when he sat next to me during a group project. While we were discussing the project, his hand touched my knee. I slapped it. He tried again, and this time, I moved away. He proceeded to tell everyone during lunch that I was “straight.” I didn’t understand why he touched my knee; it made me feel oogie (is that how you spell it?) and to add insult to injury, being called “straight” was socially an insult. It was akin to being called a prude, a stick in the mud, not fun. I was too naïve to understand any of it, but I did understand how I felt when the other kids laughed at me.
Fast forward to freshman year in high school. We were going on a fieldtrip; I don’t even remember where. I remember making a conscious decision to sit toward the back of the bus, where the “cool” kids sat. I remember feeling awkward and rejected as no one sat next to me.
Just as we were about to leave, Hot Senior Guy hops in, shoots me a heart-melting grin and asks if he can sit with me. I smile and nod, probably too emphatically, but I am so relieved that I’m not alone. I can’t believe he’s sitting with me! We make small talk and his left arm nonchalantly drapes around my shoulders. I blush and look down. Could Hot Senior Guy really like me? I’m just a freshman. He doesn’t even know who I am.
While we continue to talk, I notice that he pulls me closer. While I’m uncomfortable, I silence my inner voice (OMG Mey. Be cool.) and nervously continue to talk as I shift towards the window. He moves closer. We do this strange move, inch by inch, until my back is against the window and I have nowhere else to move. He looks right into my eyes, puts his right index finger to his lips in a “shhhh” and he slips his hand under my shirt and starts touching my chest.
“I didn’t tell anyone. Not my parents. Not my best friend. I was too ashamed.”
This is where the details get hazy. I don’t remember how long it went for – it felt like the clichéd eternity. I remember looking around, but it was like we were invisible. No one seemed to notice that I was cornered in my school bus seat by Hot Senior Guy or that his hand was up my shirt.
Did I want it? No. Did it feel good? No. And the most painful part of this memory is that I didn’t stop it – I didn’t say no. I didn’t push him away like Fifth Grade Mey pushed Art Boy away. I didn’t yell for help. Fifteen Year Old Freshman Mey just froze.
Luckily, he didn’t try anything else or perhaps he didn’t have time. We got to our destination, and he got up to meet up with his crew, who were on another bus. Before he left, he shot me another grin, muttered, “Thanks. You’re cool.”
I didn’t tell anyone. Not my parents. Not my best friend. I was too ashamed. I felt dumb and violated and just wanted to forget. And I did. Well, at least after he graduated. While he was still at school that year, I was reminded of what happened every time I saw him in the hallway. By the way, if he knew who I was after that day, he never acknowledged it. I’m just a freshman. He doesn’t even know who I am.
I had honestly forgotten about all of this until it resurfaced in a nightmare at age 36, when I woke up in a panic, feeling oogie and helpless – and turning to see O and the hubs sleeping peacefully beside me. And I already knew that I had to write about this – that I couldn’t keep it buried. Not because it’s some sensational story, but again, because it is aligned with why I write – to keep it real.
Looking back, I still wonder what happened between Fifth Grade Mey and Freshman Mey.
And while I may never have a good answer, I’m committed to close that gap with O, so that regardless of age or grade, O will be empowered to know that consent is hers alone – even with her Mama.